MIAMI – The son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who commanded a brutal paramilitary unit in his father's government, was ordered Friday by a federal judge to pay $22.4 million in damages to five Liberians who were tortured and abused during the West African nation's bloody civil war.
The Liberians sued Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr., shortly after Emmanuel was sentenced to 97 years in prison for a criminal conviction under a U.S. anti-torture law. The Emmanuel criminal case was the first and so far only prosecution under that 1994 law, which allows U.S. charges for torture committed overseas.
The ruling on damages in the civil case by U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan will "serve as a deterrent to others who believe they could mistreat fellow humans in this manner and never be held accountable," said Piper Hendricks, an attorney with Human Rights USA who represented the Liberians along with Troy Elder, a law professor at Florida International University — whose law students did research in the case.
Emmanuel, a U.S. citizen, did not initially contest the lawsuit from his Illinois prison cell. But acting as his own attorney in the damages phase, Emmanuel rejected claims he led a torture brigade as chief of President Taylor's Anti-Terrorist Unit beginning in 1997.
"This notion that I'm this human rights abuser, this poster boy for human rights abuse, is deceptive and propaganda," Emmanuel said when the civil trial ended last week.
But Judge Jordan saw it differently. In a two-page order, the judge awarded at least $5 million each to four of the Liberians and $1.8 million to the fifth, all for physical pain and mental suffering, and to punish Emmanuel.
From the witness stand in both trials, the victims told horrific stories of abuse: being held naked in jungle pits filled chest-high with water, suffering electric shocks to genitals and other body parts, having biting insects poured on their bodies, and many other abuses. Some saw people killed, and the Anti-Terrorist Unit was also blamed for training child soldiers to kill.
Hendricks called the torture evidence "a chilling example of man's inhumanity to man."
It's far from clear if Emmanuel has any assets to pay the damages. In court documents he claims to have nothing.
But Hendricks said evidence has emerged in the elder Taylor's United Nations war crimes trial that the former president still controls accounts overseas that could be linked to Emmanuel. During the trial, Emmanuel insisted he has no connection to his father's financial dealings.
Former President Taylor is on trial before a U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, on charges of orchestrating the killing, rape and mutilation of thousands of people during a 10-year war in neighboring Sierra Leone.